S. Africa's safaris struggling to switch to electric off-road cars

CAPE TOWN: Many urban drivers in wealthy countries still find themselves worried about the limits of an electric car's battery, but range anxiety takes on a new meaning when out on a safari.

The risk of being stranded on a savannah in searing heat is not one that many safari tourists want to take. But that hasn't stopped South Africa's eco-safaris from trying to push electric mobility to its limits.

In the solar-powered luxury lodge Cheetah Plains in South Africa's world-famous Kruger Park, they use electric all-terrain vehicles whose batteries are recharged by solar energy. Numerous other lodges are also experimenting with battery-powered off-road vehicles.

But this is not without its problems.

Safaris usually cover long distances on rugged terrain, conditions that have been proving too much for many electric car batteries.

So far, recharging stations in the middle of the savannah are scarcely an option, reports Julie Cheetham, business manager of Weeva, a platform that supports tourism operators in the area of sustainability.

Another problem is that dust and sand also are a challenge for electric motors.

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South Africa is at the forefront of ecologically minded safaris, and local experts say this tourism segment has seen a great amount of reevaluation.

Many safari companies are investing in environmental projects and seeking a balance in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and eco-operators such as Singita are promising guests a CO2-neutral stay.

The effects of this new sustainability are making people sit up and take notice. Tswalu, a 114,000-hectare reservation, has developed into a carbon-positive protection zone. Carbon compensation now outpaces emissions.

Seeking to limit the environmental footprint of their "gentle tourism" offerings, South Africa's Tswalu reservation has invested in four smaller conventional safari vans which consume less fuel than normal-sized ones and don't have the range issues of electric vehicles.

There are other safari mobility options - for example touring on foot, saddling up a horse or hopping on a bicycle. Cheetham says all these are increasingly in demand.

Here, instead of being seated safely inside some fume-belching off-road car, guests are more in control. But they also have to depend all the more on the expertise of an experienced ranger, one who carries a loaded rifle along, just in case.
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